I’ve been working on my DBX motion and learning the song Beaumont Rag as played by Bryan Sutton. It feels ok most of the time, but it feels a little bouncy at some points and just doesn’t seem to be super consistent. Then, when I speed it up to full speed, it just seems to fall apart about halfway through. Videos of both slower speed and full speed below. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
Thanks for posting! Beaumont is no joke in the alternate picking department so congrats on getting this far with it. In general, when you say “fall apart”, what do you mean? Because these two takes sound pretty similar to me. I’m not hearing the falling apart part, unless that’s where the video cuts off.
In general, I think there is potentially another level of smoothness to be had in terms of the motion. In your faster take, you can hear that the notes sounds a little clipped, as though they’re being shut off a little too soon. This might be a fretting thing, especially if you’re running 13 gauge strings and not pressing down for the full duration. But it could also have to do with the pick making contact with the string and shutting off the ringing note. And that could be a motion issue.
Specifically, if you use a lot of edge picking and go deep between the strings and rest stroke, the pick can actually fill up the entire gap between the strings and shut off the note you just played. If you watch the first couple of notes in the slow take (after the three intial downstrokes), and set the YouTube player to 25% speed, those actually look like USX pickstrokes to me. Downstrokes appear to move into the strings and trap - and they may even rest stroke. You can check up close with the camera, just for fun, to see if that’s what’s happening. But without micro-analyzing the video too much let’s just say that in the very general sense, this may be a hint that we’re not yet doing the motion that we’re shooting for.
If you’re going for a full-time DBX approach like what Molly Tuttle does, then you’re going for a flat-appearing motion that moves almost parallel to the strings. You shouldn’t be trapping on any pickstrokes, and you shouldn’t be rest stroking, at least not for non-accented notes.
The test for doing this correctly honestly is speed itself, accompanied by feeling of easyness / lightness. Also, when done correctly you should be able to do the motion fast enough that you encounter sloppyness. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but players who make stringhoppy motions often can’t actually play fast enough to make mistakes, whether picking or fretting. So, can you do a fast, sideways-ish motion that feels easy in the sense of low muscular effort, even when fast, and is a little sloppy? That’s a good first step.
You can try this on Beaumont, but you can also choose a simpler line, like maybe something on a single string or that repeats on a couple of strings. You can also try a three-string roll pattern. Really, any phrase will do. When I’m working on motions I try anything and everything, looking for something I can do that feels easy right away, even if it’s a little sloppy. And sometimes, for whatever reason, some phrases work when other’s don’t. That’s the randomness of the initial stages of the learning process.
As bluegrass legend Michael Angelo Batio says, when you find the way you play fastest, that’s the way you play best. So give that a shot and see what you come up with.
Thanks so much for the reply! I really appreciate it!
When I say “fall apart”, I mean at full speed, I can rarely get past the point where the video stops. It’s working and then it’s like there’s a malfunction and my hands just no longer do what I want them to.
I agree entirely that the notes sound cut off in the faster clip. I’ll examine whether that’s a fretting issue or a motion issue. I wouldn’t have even thought about if I’m going too deep into the strings and stopping my notes, I’ll definitely check that out! Would a full width video so you can see both hands be of any help?
Those first few notes do look like USX motions! Which is crazy because I’m naturally a DSX player. There are clearly some things here that are not working as I intended them to.
My eventual goal is to have DBX be my primary mode of operation with DSX available when I need it. I figured since I want DBX to be my primary tool, I should start with that, but maybe this is the wrong approach?
Regarding playing fast but sloppy, that’s what I thought I was doing in the clips haha. What I’m doing in the clips doesn’t feel particularly difficult from a muscular perspective even at full speed, but maybe I just don’t know how easy it can actually feel. What speed would you consider to be fast enough to feel the difference between a correct motion and an incorrect motion?
I will definitely give the DBX motion a go on some simpler lines. I’ll keep learning Beaumont at slow speed so that I can get the whole tune under my fingers and then come back to it at full speed once I’m confident in the DBX motion.
To recap, here are my followup questions:
With my wanting DBX to be my primary tool, should DBX be what I focus on first or is there a better order of operations?
Is there a player I could watch / emulate that primarily uses a DBX motion but uses DSX as a secondary motion when necessary?
In one of your videos you say that for pick slanting, you really have to get up to approximately 160bpm or higher to be able to feel the difference between a correct motion and an incorrect motion. Is there a similar speed threshold for DBX? I don’t plan to practice the motion to a metronome necessarily, but if there is a minimum speed I should be trying, I’d like to use that as a guideline.
Would a full width video so you can see both hands be of any help?
Michael Angelo Batio is amazing, but who is your actual favorite bluegrass player and why is it Paul Gilbert?
Thanks again! I really appreciate your insight!
You’re not really “naturally” anything. You just have things you’ve learned through trial and error, because none of us had any real instructions about how to do motions. So try not to read too much into those choices, because you can learn whatever you want eventually.
In terms of the order in which you learn wrist motions, I think the answer might be to ignore the motions themselves and just try to get the form right while feeling smooth and sounding good. When you film players like Andy Wood close up, we see all kinds of combinations of motion that he’s not aware he’s making. And even if he were to nerd out on picking motions like we do, and filmed himself and recognized these different motions, I still don’t think he could have come up with these combinations consciously in the first place.
On the other hand our knowledge of the motions is a valuable tool that you can use to help you check your playing, to confirm what’s working, and diagnose what isn’t. So when I’m doing this kind of work, I’m basically fishing. I start by feel and check with video occasionally when something sounds wrong in a way I can’t figure out, or when something sounds great and I want to make sure it’s great in the way I want. That’s really it.
If I’m playing something like Beaumont, where the string changes are likely to be a mix of things, I’m not really trying to make a particular motion at any given moment. Instead, I’m just trying to play the target phrase with some degree of smoothness. I’m looking for a feeling of easyness and speed, and I want the attack of the notes I hit to sound good, and not cut off. What I care less about at first is whether I fret the right note at any given moment, pick the correct string, or bump into multiple strings when I only mean to hit a particular one. Those are the “good” kind of errors that you see in the early stages of learning a new motion.
If you can’t play fast enough to induce these kinds of errors, that could be a hint that something is not as smooth as it could be with the motion. So give that a shot. As far as tempo, I’m hesistant to put a number on that because we don’t know. I would just suggest trying to go faster and see if you encounter a kind of hard limit. What I can say is that these motions don’t feel like they have limits, so if you feel one, that could be an indicator of something.
In terms of the pickstroke trapping, does this only happen on downstrokes or can you film yourself and tell if it’s happening on upstrokes too? If it’s only on downstrokes, then you might try adjusting your range of motion to be more ulnar. Think about the downstroke part of the motion as moving more toward the bridge, or “rightward” in your mind, and not going straight down toward the floor. This may result in a more a ulnar bend in the wrist, which is fine. Let that happen. If you want to film another take with a more face-on perspective, that’s the form we’d be looking for to stop the downstrokes from trapping.
Again, I think a lot of players would be happy to play this tune at the speed you’re doing it, with the accuracy that you currently have. So this is about smoothing out what you’re already doing. Nice work so far.
Totally understood about not being naturally anything.
Regarding the pickstroke trapping, I watched myself practicing yesterday and I seemed to get hung up in both directions occasionally. I didn’t find a particular bias towards either down or up getting trapped.
So here are some more videos. A single string line, a forward roll and Beaumont just for comparison to the previous videos, each with a wide shot and a close up (separate takes). On this go, I tried to do what you suggested. I ignored the movement and accuracy as much as I could and just focused on feeling smooth and easy. It went back and forth between feeling smoother and easier and getting tight. I had one moment yesterday in the middle of trying to practice this that it REALLY felt smooth and easy. Almost too easy. However, I haven’t been able to get that same feeling again to this point.
I think the notes getting cut off at faster speeds is primarily, if not entirely, a fretting hand or hand synchronization issue. I say that because in the forward roll video, notes are not getting cut off. If it was a picking issue, in theory, I’d expect to hear notes getting cut off there as well. My hand sync has never been great, which is clearly demonstrated on the single string line. I’m not entirely sure how to directly improve that.
Anyway, let me know what you! Thanks again!
Single String Line:
Off topic, but what is that guitar, and is it as much fun as it looks?
It’s an old Guild. I have no idea what year exactly. I’ve talked to Guild about it a couple of times because I’ve never seen another like it. They said it looks like an F4CE model, but they never made that model with the electronics setup that I have and they didn’t have my serial number in their system. They said their best guess is it was either a test guitar that came from the production line before they were officially released or it’s a prototype. They dated it somewhere in the late 80s.
And yes, it’s every bit as fun as it looks, haha.
Thanks for filming these! These all sound pretty good to me, actually. I’m not sure what you’re referring to with the hand sync being not great, because these all sound right on target. The first ten seconds or so of the Beaumont wide clip sound great. You’re more or less at the speed of the way Bryan plays it, there’s no visible bounce, and the form looks more or less Andy Wood-like. And you’re saying it feels easy and not tense so clinically speaking I think you’re doing the supinated form, and doing it correctly.
I ran through a couple bars of this with the camera. Here’s what that looks like in slow motion:
You’ll note that I’m doing the pronated version of this, where I have only the thumb anchor. This is Molly Tuttle approach, versus what I think is again the Andy Wood approach in your case. The end results are similar, though the form is slightly different. On a dreadnought-sized guitar I actually can’t reach over the big box far enough to do the Andy style. I end up coming in almost totally vertical, which gives me a lot of edge picking, and it’s too quiet. So I’ve tended to do Molly’s pronated style on acoustic, which will produce a flatter edge pick with even with a high approach. In your case,you seem to have no problem getting your forearm approach low enough, so you can do the supinated style and still get relatively low edge picking. Just for my general edification, what size guitar is this and how tall are you?
As far as the notes cutting off, you can test this on electric to see if action or string gauge is part of the story. A heavy gauge string is hard to press down and keep down, and that can sometimes cause the staccato effect.
Otherwise this all sounds good and I think you just need to feed this with variety over time, with an ear toward smoothness at these “normal” playing speeds. If you find a particular section of this which seems to want to go fast and has less of the staccato effect, then take that as a hint and try taking that phrase or picking sequence and making a little etude out of it. Rather than constantly working on things that don’t work, I’m always looking for the things which are working right now because hopefully those are the ones I’m doing the most correctly. So I workshop those to see if they might help me learn to recognize by feel when it’s really clicking.
Nice work here.
Thanks @Troy! I really appreciate all of the feedback. That Instagram clip is fantastic too. I’ll just continue what I’m doing and throw everything I can find at it to practice and refine it. I’ll give it a go on electric as well to do like you said and test if the staccato thing is happening there as well.
I’m 5’ 10", so I don’t think our heights are significantly different. The guitar isn’t a standard size, it’s really thin. The body is only about 3" thick. I haven’t played a typical dreadnaught-sized guitar in a very long time. Now I’m curious if my technique would have to change. I’m looking at picking up a Martin D-18 thanks to all of the bluegrass I’ve been listening to lately. If I have time this week, I’ll run over to the local guitar emporium and see if I can film the same lines on a dreadnaught-sized guitar and post them here.